Universal background checks are all about personal accountability

Washington State’s new universal background check law took effect today. Some gun rights activists will mark the occasion by gathering in Olympia on Dec 13 to hand each other guns, daring the police to arrest them. Police will mark the occasion by not doing so, because (as was said repeatedly during the campaign) I-594 doesn’t make that illegal.

I-594 never was about criminalizing such casual transfers. Nor was it about changing who is allowed to own a gun. It wasn’t even about expecting 100% compliance with background checks. Many people will still find a way to buy guns under the table. No, I-594 was about getting gun owners to take more personal responsibility when they sell guns, because not doing a background check can come back to bite you.

“If somebody committed a crime with a firearm, and if the source was tracked back to someone who didn’t do a background check of the person who they transferred the gun to, that to me would seem to be the most likely scenario where a law-enforcement official would take action,” says Mitch Barker, executive director for the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs.

In other words, if you’re about to sell a weapon to another person, I-594 has made it your business to make sure they are legally permitted to own it. This approach is totally in keeping with the character of Washington State. Most Washingtonians believe that law-abiding citizens have the right to own guns. But with that right comes great responsibility. Preventing the misuse of guns is everyone’s job, not just police, courts or mental health professionals.

The next step is to extend that responsibility to protect children. State Rep. Ruth Kagi plans to introduce a bill this year to make it a crime for someone to leave or store a loaded gun where a child could get access. Twenty-eight other states have similar laws, and Washington should too.

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